1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad
1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad

Give Chrysler credit for hubris. If a carmaker is going to compare in advertising its cars to other vehicles, it may as well shoot for the stars. And, in this ad for the new LeBaron GTS, Chrysler went big.

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1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS

New for 1985, the LeBaron GTS was born of humble stock, sharing its basic architecture with the Chrysler Corporation’s popular Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant “K-Cars.” By this time, virtually everything in the Chrysler stable was K-Car derived, a thing with was both good and bad.

Confusingly, Chrysler sold a non-GTS LeBaron, with was nothing more than a gussied-up Dodge Aries with leather trim, lots of fake wood cabin trim, and wire wheel covers.

The GTS was something more, however. The GTS boasted an elegant design, specially tuned suspension, and nifty—and European cool—hatchback body. Available with a 146-horsepower turbocharged 2.2-liter engine and a 5-speed manual transmission, the GTS held its own in traffic, and by most accounts was decent handling.

But a European look and a spunky engine can only take you so far, and sadly, the GTS’s K-Car ancestry limited the car’s ultimate appeal. While the GTS arguably looked European, and handled OK, it did not come close to matching European luxury sedans in terms of performance or refinement.

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1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad
1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad

But, like the proud mother of an under-performing little leaguer, Chrysler went over the top in its print advertising—and in TV ads—and compared the GTS directly to the compact Mercedes-Benz 190E, and the midsize BMW 528e. both of which were extremely well regarded at the time.

The print ad includes a chart demonstrating the GTS’s superior performance in acceleration, braking, and handling. I won’t get into how, but the evaluation process which yielded said numbers could have been—and likely was—designed to show the Chrysler in the best possible light.

That said, contemporary buff-book reviews of the GTS were generally kind to the car, noting that it was a much better vehicle than the K-Car derivatives it was related to. However, those same reviews also noted the following:

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  • 1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad
    1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad

    The engine was rough and sounded “agricultural”

  • The engine did not feature an intercooler, a thing becoming common on turbocharged motors at the time
  • The engine took too long to spool up and delivery power, and then came on abruptly
  • The shifter was clunky
  • The clutch squeaked
  • The ride was too firm
  • The handling was good, but it wasn’t very good
  • The steering “wiggled” in hard cornering
  • The car’s chassis flexed in corners and over road imperfections
  • Seats looked supportive, but were too soft for aggressive driving
  • The whole car squeaked and rattled

Additionally, the GTS was shod with rear drum brakes, inexcusable on a car being compared to excellent European sport sedans. Also, the GTS’s sold-beam rear axle seemed cheap and crude compared to the Mercedes 190E’s sophisticated multi-link arrangement.

The only category in which the GTS clearly trumped the competition was price. A well equipped 1986 GTS listed for around $13,000, considerably less that the BMW 528e (about $27,000) and the 190E (about $31,000). While the comparison put for in the ad is patently absurd, at least it called attention to the GTS itself. Shoppers at the time would not have associated any Chrysler product with premium European vehicles, so that ad at least raised shopper awareness of the GTS’s intended mission—albeit with a dose of absurdism.

Note that Dodge sold a very similar vehicle called the Lancer. The GTS and Lancer were available from 1985 through 1989. All told, about 188,000 LeBaron GTS found buyers, few of whom actually cross shopped their Chryslers with a Mercedes or BMW.

1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad
1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Ad

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1986 Chrysler LeBaron GTS Gallery

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